CMO of the Week: Morgan Stanley’s Alice Milligan

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Alice Milligan’s role has been evolving since she joined E-Trade as chief customer officer in 2019.

Alice Milligan’s role has been evolving since she joined E-Trade as chief customer officer in 2019.

When she started with the trading platform, she was responsible for overseeing the brands, retail products, digital customer experience, marketing and data/analytics as the brand was focused on growth. Then almost immediately following the pandemic hitting, Morgan Stanley announced the acquisition of E-Trade, closing on the deal in late 2020. In June 2021, Milligan transitioned into chief marketing officer of Morgan Stanley and focused on the integration of E-Trade into the parent company. In this new role, she is charged with overseeing the firm's global brand strategy and go-to-market platform. 

“I think about just my experience over the last couple of years, and the firm's, the only constant is change,” says Milligan. “The firm has spent a lot of time on our growth strategy and part of that was really looking at building or acquiring the capabilities of technologies that are appealing to a broader set of audiences.” 

Not only did Morgan Stanley bring E-Trade into the fold, they also acquired Eaton Vance and Solium in the last couple of years. So Milligan must work on how to modernize the Morgan Stanley brand with these various new companies in the portfolio. She is tasked with communicating this vast set of capabilities to new audiences.

“When I first took on the role, I started to look at and have conversations internally within the firm and externally about the areas of focus,” explains Milligan. “Our brand is a healthy brand, we do a lot around our brand metrics, especially we get high marks in terms of integrity and client service. The challenge was really, how do we start to integrate a lot of these brands? How do we leverage and optimize? What's strong across all of them? And how do we start to appeal to a broader audience and unlock some of those unifying characteristics that would help us drive growth?” 

The answers to these questions have manifested in several different ways. E-Trade launched a Super Bowl ad that showcased the new logo and the integration with Morgan Stanley. More than 208 million people saw that ad.  

Brand Innovators caught up with Milligan from Morgan Stanley’s headquarters in New York to talk about this brand growth, the company’s mission and how new technologies like voice and audio are playing a role in their marketing.  This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Can you talk about your brand mission and how that's showing up in messaging?

As a firm we have our core values, which are really what we believe in as a company. One of those has been diversity and inclusion. We recently introduced a new marketing platform called Everyone Deserves a Shot with our PLAYERS Championship in March. And that was really about helping to create the right environment, and invest in the next generation of diverse players, giving them the tools, the coaching and mentoring that they need to succeed. We leverage Justin Rose and Cheyenne Woods, our brand ambassadors. We've seen that when you start early and you give players the right coaching, the right tools, the right mentoring resources, that you can really make a change in their game. We've seen that same thing in financial services. When you work with people who are younger, and just starting out, and you give them the right tools and help them understand how to build wealth, you see much more success in terms of the ultimate outcome. 

The second area of diversity, which is near and dear to my heart, being a woman in financial services, we as an industry haven't always been the best in terms of addressing the needs that are unique for women. We have been spending a lot of time thinking about what the right platform is for that. Most recently, we added Leylah Fernandez as one of our brand ambassadors. She's a 19 year-old, Canadian tennis pro of Ecuadorian and Filipino descent and she's really taking the world by storm. She's really focused on inspiring the next generation of athletes. She is a great fit with our brand. The partnership generated seven times the social engagement on our average click through rates, and over six times our benchmarks. It's really gotten our employees and our clients excited. It's going to be a great partnership, but it's also helping us cement the fact that Morgan Stanley is committed to reflecting diversity, and the importance of breaking down barriers for women in sports and business.

What channels are you investing in and has this shifted due to the pandemic?

Like many companies, Morgan Stanley did a number of face to face type events before the pandemic. So we pivoted pretty quickly to create virtual events when Covid hit. By doing some of those virtual events, we were able to almost double the average attendance to our events. Now that we've gotten into the world where things are becoming a little bit more normal, and we are going back to more face-to-face, we're combining both virtual and physical events. 

The second thing we saw is the importance that audio plays. In audio, we've done a lot around understanding how people consume more audio since the pandemic, what the appeal is, and we've seen almost double digit increase in usage for that as well as how we've purchased our media mix. And then the final thing is on-demand video. Streaming consumption exploded during the pandemic. We're seeing a lot of engagement there. So we continue to explore ways that our brand can show up in those channels as well.

Has the pandemic changed the way that consumers are engaging with financial institutions?

There's no question that across the board the pandemic has radically changed customer behavior and financial services is no different. It's clearly accelerated digital adoption for all generations. It’s not just younger generations, but we've seen it across the board, it's really pushed us to think about a true omnichannel approach. People don't want to just interact in one way, they want to interact in both a digital way, but also have a fallback in terms of some human interaction. 

Morgan Stanley has really been building those capabilities. There's a new sense of urgency, as people think about societal issues, and wanting to do business with companies that foster real change in the world, that's actually become a pretty strong and increasingly important aspect that consumers want in the brands that they do business with. Morgan Stanley has been strong in terms of our sustainability and in terms of our diversity and inclusion. We've continued to put emphasis on those aspects of what we do as a business to ensure we're meeting the needs of our consumers.

What is your take on NFTs?

We're spending a lot of time as a group just looking at what's out there, how some companies who are more on the cutting edge are engaging. As a financial services firm with a long legacy, we tend to be a little bit more conservative in terms of our approach. Consumers that do business with our firm are not always as actively engaged in these channels. The team is doing a lot around education and awareness. We're speaking with our agencies, third parties and others to look at what are the right opportunities for us to show up in ways that are relevant for our clients and prospects. 

I think voice assistance and some other technologies may not be as cutting edge in terms of digital and technology development, but we've seen a tremendous increase in our voice assistant usage. What we saw over the pandemic is an increase in significant ways for those types of capabilities. A lot of the technology enhancement and developments are a little bit more foundational, but are growing at pretty rich and sustained rates.

Can you talk about how your past experiences at brands including American Express and Coach has helped shape your approach to leadership in your current role?

I've had the opportunity to work for a number of incredible brands – and all of those brands have been strong consumer brands that innovate and do really interesting things. I had the good fortune to start from the bottom, much like the Drake song.  I've learned and had the opportunity to work my way up through the organization. That has impacted me in two ways. First, I believe that great ideas and points of view come from anyone. When I started out, I was an administrative assistant. And I probably spoke up and felt my point of view had as much meaning as it does now being the CMO of Morgan Stanley. And I still believe that, I think people should share their point of view. I try to encourage that in my team. 

The other thing that I realized early on is that we are all consumers interacting with brands each and every day, our own brand that we're representing, or the brands of others. I really encourage my team to explore our experiences, use our financial advisors, do the things that clients would do, because once you understand what the experiences are like, you're at the other side of the table, it makes you a much better marketer. It helps you understand what resonates both emotionally and rationally, when you're a consumer. 

The final thing I would say is, one of the things I've learned that's impacted me is sometimes the hardest critic is yourself. And so really looking at yourself, your contributions, understanding what your strengths are, and speaking about those and feeling confident about those is really important. I coach and mentor young women on this. There are things that you can do to ensure that you're feeling good about yourself, and that you're focusing on your strengths, not your weaknesses. 

What are you most excited about going into the second half of  2022?

Morgan Stanley has been on a wonderful ride in terms of growth over the last few years, James has been very focused on the company strategy. We've been really diligent about implementing that. And as a result of that, it's really given us an opportunity to transform our go to market strategy. I'm really excited about that. We're doing a lot of work in terms of our brand evolution, our sponsorships, and events and how we think about diversity and inclusion. And I think the second half of this year into early next year, they'll be some exciting work that you'll start to see. You know, our brand is stronger than ever. So I think that's wonderful. And the opportunity for me and the team is really taking this legacy and helping to modernize it for new generations and showing up in innovative and unexpected ways for the firm and so we're, we're pushing on that. It's going to be a great opportunity for the firm to shine. I'm excited about the work that my team is going to do and helping that come to life and helping us tell our story externally.

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